What’s the best way to spend two minutes? If you said “intercourse with a family of piranhas,” as of the most recent American Idol, you’d be incorrect. And probably maimed. You see, Blake Lewis—the 311-loving, California-surfing, crowd-pleasing American Idol semifinalist—brought down the house with his beatboxed take on Bon Jovi’s “You give love a bad name.” (As an aside: If Jon Bon Jovi knew when he wrote the song that certain people have sex with piranhas, its entire concept might be different.)
If you haven’t seen it yet, it behooves you to take exactly two minutes and watch Blake on YouTube: http://youtube.com/watch?v=KT95Dm62yFE. I’m not big on American consumer culture, and programming like American Idol and the Tyra Banks show, for all its redemptive masturbatory value, hardly interests me. Thank G-D for DVR (and my astute roommate Yehudah, without whom I wouldn't have seen the clip in the first place), because when I got home at 3 in the morning last Thursday from a demanding, immoral evening, I fast-forwarded to Blake Lewis, saw his performance, briefly died, communed with the soul world, then slowly cascaded back to earth and watched it again.
What’s most amazing is the concept. As Bon Jovi himself commented, “You give love a bad name” is a very popular song, and people don’t want it manipulated. They want it recited exactly as they know it. And that in itself is the biggest challenge to anyone singing the song, irrespective of beatboxing: “You give love a bad name” is so anthemic and so endemic to American popular culture that almost any performance will sound like karaoke, or, at best, a well-rehearsed run-through of a trite song. For a relative amateur to take on the song in the first place—and then completely revise it within respectful bounds—takes a lot of balls and a hell of a lot of vision.
That’s precisely why Blake earned rave reviews from the judges, even from crotchety Simon. His performance was the ultimate 120-second amalgam of talent, showmanship, guts, gumption, taste, and calculated recklessness. His 16-measure breakdown was instant and eternal music mythology (who was his drummer, by the way? I have a house party I want him to play), and to pull the whole thing off on the most safe, conservative, brainwashed, over-produced television show in American history was groundbreaking. Just watch—regardless of how much praise Blake siphoned from both crowd and judges, and no matter how much media praise he garners, not one contestant will attempt anything even remotely similar. What he did was unheard of, so completely far away from the box, that as soon it was over it ceased to exist in the world of general American Idol possibilities.
Blake will probably not win American Idol. For all his innovation, his voice is not the strongest, his range is the shallowest, and his competition is freakishly talented. As for “the most original version of a song ever on American Idol,” as Randy Jackson said, it is most likely fated to a short-lived YouTube immortalization, the force of which will be attenuated by the next cool American media moment.
On the off chance that Blake wins, however, it will be because of his watershed American Idol moment. His voice may be lacking, but his musicality is unrivaled and his creativity is ceaseless. He gives love a better name than anybody. Except Justin Timberlake.
Stay Surviving, Blake
MC ‘Merican Idol